"Something that I consider very problematic is that in psychiatric hospitals there are treatment-related tasks in which the use of force may be called for, but which treatment personnel are not able to carry out without endangering their safety and for which security guards, in turn, do not have authorisation," says Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen.
The Ombudsman has recommended to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the Ministry of the Interior that the tasks performed in psychiatric hospitals by security guards from private companies and their powers be examined and if necessary statutorily provided for in an appropriate manner.
A further matter that should be looked into in the same conjunction is any additional training that the guards may require.
The Ombudsman studied the use of private security guards in State psychiatric hospitals on the basis of an inspection visit he had made to Niuvanniemi Hospital.
He pointed out that under the Constitution the right of personal integrity can be impinged on only on the basis of an Act and that the rights of persons who have been deprived of liberty must be safeguarded by law. Legislation with a bearing on fundamental rights must be precise and its limits clearly defined.
The special powers that guards have under the Security Services Act (removing a person from the scene, apprehending a perpetrator of a crime and conducting a search of a crime suspect who has been apprehended) are rarely suitable for application in a psychiatric hospital.
By contrast, the actions of guards there are based on so-called everyman's rights, mainly self-defence, regulation of which is very open and in an institutional environment causes difficult problems of interpretation.
Indeed, the contract that the hospital had made with the security company provided for tasks for the performance of which the guards' powers do not appear to be sufficient or at least are very open to interpretation, such as assisting in administering treatment and placing patients in handcuffs during transport.
In the view of the Ombudsman, it is essential from the perspective of the safety and protection under the law of patients, personnel and guards that situations of this kind be studied and if necessary statutorily provided for in an appropriate manner.
In addition, the Ombudsman believes that the need for guards in hospitals to receive additional training should be looked into. Guards are a part of the treatment environment that patients encounter. Therefore attention should be paid to guards' knowledge of psychiatric illnesses and their preparedness to encounter an ill person.
Additional info will be provided by Senior Legal Adviser Håkan Stoor, tel. +358 (0)9 432 3366